U.S. Tax Information
Completing and Submitting Tax Forms
Below you will find basic information and resources about your 2020 tax filing obligations, how to complete and submit the correct tax forms on time, and how to pay the proper taxes—or better yet, receive a tax refund. Taxes are often complicated, even for US citizens and permanent residents. Please be advised that the ISSO staff does not specialize in international tax law and cannot answer specific questions regarding your individual tax filing requirements; therefore, we have prepared the following information to help get you started.
All international scholars and students who were physically present in the U.S. any time between January 1 and December 31 of a given year, must complete and submit some type of federal tax form for that year. For example, if you were physically present in the U.S. any time between January 1, 2020, and December 31, 2020, you must complete and submit some type of 2020 federal tax form but the required forms vary depending on whether you earned any income in the US.
International students and scholars in other immigration classifications may also be required to complete and submit tax forms. The number and type of form you must complete depend on whether you earned income during the year, the type of income you received, the length of time you have been physically present in the U.S., and other factors.
Determine Your Tax Residence Category
It is important not to confuse immigration terms of “resident” and “nonresident” with taxpayer categories that have the same name. For tax purposes, “residence” is defined based on the Substantial Presence Test (SPT), which is independent from your immigration classification. The SPT is the calculation that the federal government uses to determine when “non-resident aliens” for immigration purposes have been in the United States long enough to be considered “residents” for tax purposes.
BU ISSO has purchased licenses for Sprintax, a web-based tax return preparation system designed exclusively for non-residents for tax purposes to help our international students and scholars to determine your “tax residence” status.
Nonresidents (for tax purposes) are taxed only on their U.S. income. While nonresidents are not required to file a federal or state tax return if their earned income amount is below the stated personal exemption amount, they are encouraged to file a return if taxes were withheld from their paycheck as they will likely receive a refund.
F-1 students and J-1 exchange visitors are considered “exempt individuals,” or “nonresidents” for tax purposes for specific periods of time even though they are present in the United States for 183 days or more. Once they exceed “exempt individual” status, days of physical presence will be counted and they may become residents for tax purposes.
If you qualify to file your tax forms as a nonresident, it is very likely that Sprintax will be able to help you prepare your tax forms. The ISSO will distribute a unique code for the 2020 tax season via email that will enable you to create a login for Sprintax. Once you have created your new login, you will be able to enter all of your personal data so Sprintax can calculate your SPT and advise you if you are a nonresident or a resident for tax purposes. If you are a non-resident for tax purposes, you can use Sprintax to prepare the 8843 and your federal tax returns at no charge. If you have earned income in other US states, you also will be offered an option to use Sprintax to complete state nonresident tax forms for a fee of $39.
Follow the Sprintax Step-by-Step guide for specific instructions. Please contact the ISSO if you have not received the 2020 Sprintax BU discount code via email.
Residents (for tax purposes) are taxed by the U.S. on their worldwide income and generally complete the Form 1040-EZ or the 1040 and required schedule forms. Examples of a resident for tax purposes are:
- F and J students (and their dependent family members) who no longer qualify as “exempt individuals” as they have been physically present in the U.S. over five tax years
- J scholars (and their dependent family members) who no longer qualify as “exempt individuals” as they have been physically present in the U.S. for more than two out of every six tax years
- Foreign nationals in any other immigration classification (H-1) who are physically present in the U.S. for 183 days or more in any three-year period
If Sprintax determines you are a resident for tax purposes, you will need to utilize some of the additional resources instead of Sprintax to complete and submit your return highlighted in Tax FAQs
Dual Status Aliens
Dual status aliens are nonresidents for tax purposes for part of the year and residents for tax purposes for the rest of the year. A change in immigration status may affect an individual’s resident status, changing them from a nonresident (for tax purposes) to a resident (for tax purposes) in the middle of the year.
If Sprintax determines you are a dual resident for tax purposes, you will need to utilize some of the additional resources instead of Sprintax to complete and submit your return highlighted in Tax FAQs
If you worked in the U.S. and received taxable employment compensation, you must have a Social Security Number (SSN) for tax filing purposes. If you have ever been previously assigned a SSN, you may use the same number to file your tax forms. Please refer to the ISSO web page regarding how to apply for a Social Security Number.
If you have received taxable stipends or scholarships that are not considered employment compensation and you are not eligible to apply for an SSN, then you will need to apply for an Individual Tax Identification Number (ITIN). If you have a previously-assigned ITIN, you should use the same ITIN to submit your tax forms. If this is the first time you are submitting tax returns and an ITIN will be required in your case, Sprintax will assist you in preparing the W-7 Application for IRS Individual Taxpayer Identification Number in addition to any other required tax forms so that you can apply for the ITIN and file your tax return at the same time. Once you have prepared the W-7, you will then need to prepare documents to certify your “foreign status” and “identity” as required by W-7 instructions.
If you have not earned any income, nor received any taxable stipends or scholarships, and are only required to file IRS Form 8843, then neither a SSN nor an ITIN is required to file.
Collect Required Documents
If you earned or received income in the U.S., you are required to gather official documentation from various sources in order to complete the tax forms. Sources of U.S. income may include on-campus employment, scholarships, fellowships, graduate assistantships, stipends, practical or academic training, and any compensation received for labor. “Income” is not limited to wages paid to the individual in cash, but also includes that portion of a scholarship, fellowship, or assistantship that is applied to housing and meal expenses. Some examples of this official documentation are a Form W-2 from your employer, Form 1042-S from Boston University and/or another academic institution you attended in a given year, Form 1099 from your bank, or any other forms showing income.
If you received taxable income during a given year from Boston University, you should have already received a Form W-2 from BU and/or any other U.S. employer showing the wages you earned and the taxes withheld. If you have any questions regarding your Form W-2 from BU, please contact the BU Payroll Office at 617-353-2270.
If you’re a student or a scholar who received a scholarship or fellowship from BU or you’re claiming a tax treaty in a given year, you should receive a Form 1042-S in mid-March from the BU Payroll office showing the amount paid. You will not be able to begin completing your tax forms until after you have received the Form 1042-S. If you have any questions regarding your Form 1042-S, please contact the BU Payroll Office at 617-353-2270.
Tax FAQs and Additional Resources
Read on for more information.